Raise your hand if 10 years ago you expected Alabama to have the reigning offensive player of the year playing quarterback after his true freshman campaign, and that quarterback to have his job called into question all offseason. This, despite running the regular season table, winning a national semifinal and leading a go-ahead touchdown drive late in the national title game before another, more experienced quarterback made some magic.
Put your hand down. No you didn't.
Not coach Nick Saban. Not Alabama. Not a defensive-minded coach running a defensive-minded team that prides itself on being old-school.
Welcome to the new age of Alabama football, an age ushered in by Saban -- a reluctant "offensive visionary."
Jalen Hurts led his team to within one second of a national title as the first true freshman, full-time starting quarterback in Alabama history, earning the top offensive honors in the SEC and a spot on a regional cover of Sports Illustrated in December in the process. Yet, true freshman Tua Tagovailoa is enough of a factor that Saban had to hop up on his soapbox and shoot down thoughts of a quarterback controversy in the smaller TV room at SEC Media Days earlier this month.
"We're not going to tolerate people making stuff up just to create interest," Saban said. "Which I understand and respect that's your job, but it's not going to happen...I was waiting for that one, man. That was like a hanging curveball."
Rule of thumb: Don't ask Nick Saban about a "QB Controversy".#SECMediaDays17 @WBRZ pic.twitter.com/sKJ9xmLV2k— Mike Gaither (@MikeGaitherTV) July 12, 2017
If you think Saban seemed annoyed with that question, well, you're right. He was.
But he also should take it as a compliment, because he's the reason he got it.
Instead of a caretaker -- which was the case under former signal-callers John Parker Wilson, Greg McElroy and AJ McCarron -- Alabama's quarterback is required to be a difference-maker. That's directly tied to the rise of exotic offense, rules slanted to favor those offenses and Saban's admission that things aren't like they used to be.
"It's exciting," Saban said of the offensive explosion in college football at spring meetings earlier this year. "We score, like, 40 more points per game than we used to (slight exaggeration). Our 2011 team gave up eight points per game. The best defenses in the country give up twice that much now. It's going to continue to go that way."
That's why it seems like Hurts' inaugural season that included 2,780 passing yards, 23 touchdowns, 954 rushing yards and 13 rushing touchdowns wasn't good enough. That's why it's a stated mandate that Hurts become a more explosive downfield passer under new coordinator Brian Daboll, or he'll run the risk of Tagovailoa stealing snaps. That's why Saban has set out to create a new-school offense with an old-school twist.
"The players have really responded to [Daboll] well," Saban said at SEC Media Days. "He's got a great personality. I think he's exactly what we're looking for in terms of helping us redevelop a pro-style passing attack that would go with the athleticism with some of the spread offense that we've used with Jalen and our other quarterbacks, which helped us tremendously."
While fighting against tempo and championing true enforcement of illegal linemen downfield rules in an effort to slow the rise of run-pass option offenses, Saban humbled himself. He chose to find the best athletes who have downfield passing potential, rather than using arm talent as the primary barometer.
That brings us to today, when questions about the upside of the defending SEC Offensive Player of the Year have been prevalent before, during and after Tagovailoa threw for 313 yards and three touchdowns with the twos in the Alabama spring game. Evidently Hurts' 301 yards, two touchdowns and 14 wins as a true freshman aren't good enough for the fan base and the college football world.
Saban is right. This isn't an age where defense wins championships anymore. "Just enough" defense wins championships. The definition of "just enough" varies based on the style of offense both teams trot out between the white lines.
Publicly, Saban is annoyed.
Privately, though, he'll likely sit back in his office, push the button that closes the door to his office and crack a rare smile.
His reluctant vision has become Alabama's reality and the rest of the SEC's nightmare.